Mark Lech has long enjoyed watching various winter sports on television, including bobsledding.
The University of Maine track and field coach saw the potential connections between that and bobsledding, and two of the athletes he shared those sentiments with will represent the United States at next month’s Winter Olympics.
Frank Del Duca and James Reed, both 30-year-old former track athletes who graduated from UMaine in 2014, were two of 12 athletes nominated this week for the USA Olympic bobsled team and will represent Team USA at the Beijing Games.
Del Duca, who will make his first appearance in the Winter Olympics, will drive sleds in the two and four-man races. Reed, an alternate for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was selected as a push athlete for the 2022 team.
The Olympic bobsled competition is scheduled to begin with the two-man heats on Feb. 14. The four-man heats will begin Feb. 19.
“If you’re a 100-meter or a 60-meter sprinter you’ve got to get out of the blocks fast, you’ve got to explode out of the box for those first 20 meters. That’s a lot of what the bobsled is, pushing the heck out of it for 20 meters and then jumping into the sled,” Lech said.
“I saw some other people that were doing it on the circuit from just watching winter sports and thought they might want to think of doing something like that. I thought, ‘You’re powerful out of the blocks and you’ve got some good speed.’ I think I remember mentioning something to them about that.”
Del Duca arrived at UMaine as a sprinter and long jumper after a stellar athletic career at Telstar High School in Bethel.
Del Duca went from walk-on to team captain by his senior year on the Orono campus, where he won an America East championship in the long jump and ranks among the top 10 Black Bears all time in that event both indoors and outdoors.
Del Duca joined the U.S. national team in 2015 as a push athlete, then became a driver after not making the U.S. team for the 2018 Winter Games.
He began the current season competing in the North American Cup and won 16 medals in 16 two-man and four-man races before the holiday break, when he was elevated to the top-tier World Cup level.
Del Duca’s sleds then earned top-15 finishes in four World Cup races at Winterberg, Germany, two weeks ago and St. Moritz, Switzerland, last weekend, leading to his first Olympic team selection as one of two drivers along with veteran pilot Hunter Church of Cadyville, New York.
Del Duca will be one of at least four sliding soldiers at the Beijing Winter games, joining Maine native Emily Sweeney (luge), Hakeem Abdul-Saboor (bobsled) and Kelly Curtis (skeleton). All are members of the World Class Athlete Program, with Abdul-Saboor, Del Duca and Sweeney representing the U.S. Army and Curtis with the U.S. Air Force.
Reed, who grew up in Germany, followed in his father’s footsteps, not only by attending UMaine but by breaking D. Ben Reed’s school record in the 60-meter hurdles.
The younger Reed also became a conference champion, winning the America East title in the 60-meter hurdles and finishing second at the 2014 IC4A/ECAC meet.
Soon after graduation he earned a berth on the U.S. team, originally pushing for the late Steven Holcomb and earning four World Cup medals between 2015 and 2017 in Holcomb’s four-man bobsled.
Reed did not compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but since then he has served as a push athlete for Church’s sled and they returned to the World Cup podium in 2020.
Both Del Duca and Reed are returning to the United States this week after completing the pre-Olympic World Cup schedule in Europe before making the trip to China.